Friday, December 3, 2021

Taking Drugs to Make Movies to Take Drugs To: Iván Zulueta's 1979 Psychodrama Arrebato

ARREBATO / Rapture
(Iván Zulueta, 1979, Spain, 115 mins)

"Fuck the movies."
José (Eusebio Poncela)
On the surface, 1979's Arrebato ("Rapture") is a horror movie about the horror of becoming overly invested in the making of horror movies. 
In that sense, it recalls Peter Strickland's Berberian Sound Studio (2012) and Prano Bailey-Bond's Censor (2021), even as it pre-dates both of those films, one about a British sound mixer unraveling while working on a giallo in Italy and the other about a censor unraveling while working as a government-sponsored editor during Britain's "video nasty" era.
On a deeper level, it's a film about drug addiction in which film is as much of a drug as the drugs consumed while making films, an idea the Spacemen 3 once explored as Taking Drugs to Make Music to Take Drugs To. As the addictions feed off each other, art and life become indivisible.   

As it begins, a slinky vampire with long, dark hair strolls out of her glass-topped coffin to skulk about before José (Dwight Yoakam doppelgänger Eusebio Poncela, The Cannibal Man), a Madrid horror director and his editor stop what they're doing to bicker. She isn't real, just a character in José's film, but he doesn't like the way she appears to be looking at the camera. "Meaningless cinema," he sniffs before leaving for the day. 
He's in a shitty mood when he gets home to find that Pedro (Will More, Pedro Almodóvar's Dark Habits), a figure from his past, has sent a reel of Super-8 film, a cassette, and a key. On the off-chance you've forgotten you're watching a film from 1979, these items will surely remind you. 
José's night proceeds to get worse as his girlfriend, Ana (Cecilia Roth, looking like Dressed to Kill-era Nancy Allen), won't wake up, the bathroom appliances turn against him, and Pedro, a floppy-haired figure in a Withnail and I-like overcoat, materializes in front of him before disappearing again. What's an angry, jittery guy to do but to shoot some smack? 
In a flashback, José drives to Segovia with his ex-girlfriend Marta (Marta Fernández Muro, Almodóvar's Law of Desire) to visit her toothy aunt, Carmen (Carmen Giralt). This is where he first meets her cousin, Pedro, who is obsessed with King Solomon's Mines--not the 1950 movie so much as the illustrated comic featuring stars Deborah Kerr and Stewart Granger. Once Carmen has gone to bed, José does some blow with Marta and Pedro. 
Though José is the central character, Pedro narrates the film by way of the cassette in a hoarse, whispery voice that plays like a manifestation of José's subconscious. Back in the present, José introduces Ana to smack. She's concerned she might become addicted, but he insists that it's all about moderation--proof that he has no idea how addiction works. 
Here and elsewhere, Iván Zulueta, a poster designer-turned filmmaker, leaves nothing to the imagination, though the full-frontal nudity and polymorphous sexuality never feels unnecessary or exploitative, not least because his sole directorial credit is largely autobiographical. Fascist dictator Franco had left office just four years prior, and Zulueta and his friend and supporter, Pedro Almodóvar, would lead the charge, by way of La Movida Madrileña, to expand the possibilities of Spanish film. 
José's two worlds collide when he brings Ana to meet Pedro. Both want access to Pedro's body, drugs, and film project, leading to a tense atmosphere. If Ana is relatively mature, Pedro is a child with his Silly Putty, Betty Boop doll, and plastic container of Slime (I had the same stuff in junior high--it was nasty). José straddles the line between the two.  

Pedro proceeds to project home movies on his bedroom wall consisting of grainy images of Marta's home and its surroundings. Pretty quotidian stuff, though he finds it terribly exciting. In the present, José and Ana watch Pedro's latest film. Compared to the earlier material, it's more personal, sophisticated...and insidious.  
Now living in the city after Carmen sold their home, Pedro has become fixated on filmmaking as something that can bring him to rapture. The ultimate drug. He keeps a camera trained on his bed at all times to capture his drug-enhanced sleep, becoming convinced that another person or, more likely, a supernatural force has become involved with this otherwise solitary pursuit. When his friend, Gloria (Helena Fernán-Gómez, voiced by Almodóvar), turns off the camera after he nods off during a visit, he wakes up in a panic, convinced that he can't live without it.  
By this point, Zulueta has switched focus to Pedro who grows increasingly pale, red-eyed--vampiric. Throughout, the score ranges from ominous electronic rumblings to tinkly melodies played on (what sounds like) toy instruments, including squeaks, rattle-shakes, and baby lamb bleats. 
As José and Pedro continue to unravel, one by compulsively making a film and the other by compulsively watching it, the story threads ultimately entwine in gratifyingly proto-Videodromesque fashion.
Pedro Almodóvar, who would work with Cecilia Roth on 1999's All about My Mother (among other films), has proclaimed Arrebato his favorite horror film, but it goes further than that. In their early days, he truly believed that Zulueta, who would return to his native San Sebastián after the commercial failure of the film, was the superior filmmaker. A more unexpected fan: David Fincher, who references it in Fight Club
Beyond the fact that they worked and socialized together, I would imagine that Almodóvar's enthusiasm for Arrebato has something to do with the way José and Pedro can't live with or without film. Or drugs. Any more than they can make or consume one without the other. Like a drug, film is the lie that tells the truth, but a human body can only take so much of the pure, uncut stuff. In Zulueta's case, a suddenly stalled film career would not kill him and nor would his longtime heroin addiction (he passed away in 2009), but after giving it everything he had, he had nothing left to give. 
The new 4K edition of Arrebato will be available on VOD Dec 21, followed by a DVD and Blu-ray on Jan 25. All images courtesy Altered Innocence.